Email being what it is, I found myself engaged in a series of exchanges yesterday that was launched when a certain colleague, who shall remain nameless, forwarded a copy of an article detailing a developing scandal in Sweden over allegations contained in a book published last year. According to author Roger Lundgren, who penned The Reluctant Monarch, HM King Carl Gustav of Sweden frequented strip clubs in Slovakia and the US during travels in those countries.(Note A) This initial article led to numerous observations about the pulchritudinal penchants of Europe’s throng of miscellaneous nobles, and how they all seem to evince similar proclivities for scandal.
HM King Carl XVI Gustav of Sweden. I wish my folks had named me after an anti-tank weapon.
Leaving aside the incongruity of the Scandinavian press with its Side 9 Pigern (“Page 9 Girls”) expressing puritanical shock and dismay at such reprehensible conduct, it wasn’t the “scandal” so much as the “sameness” of it that got me thinking about the similarities between so many royals. While I’m something of a monarchist, I’m the opposite of a royal-watcher, and I certainly don’t purport to be an expert on genealogy; and I don’t subscribe to Thomas Carlyle’s “great man” theory of history (or at least not to all of it). But as I’ve said before, history by its very nature is comprised of people and the impact of their actions on the flux and flow of international events. We ignore interconnectivity between people at our peril. To put it another way, given how often we have to listen to folks ramble on about “complexity”, it’s worth remembering that one of the characteristics of complexity (and therefore of ”complex systems”, another phrase used ad nauseum these days) is interdependence between individual actors. Ceteris paribus, the greater the number of “nodes” where two or more individual actors interact, the greater the level of actual or potential complexity in a given system.
We don’t have to look to the computing sciences or delve into the mysteries of bosons, mesons and other members of the subatomic bestiary for examples of this sort of thing. History - the history of people and their interactions, especially when the inter-actors are people who exercise power and influence - provides a wealth of examples of complex systems. This was brought forcibly to my attention when, during a visit to Denmark in 1990 to be vetted by my future in-laws, I visited Christiansborg Castle in Copenhagen and saw this painting:
“Fredensborg Days”, Laurits Tuxen (painted 1863-1866)
The painting - which, at 5 x 7 metres, is bloody enormous - takes up a whole wall and depicts a fictionalized scene during the “Fredensborg Days” period of the monarchy of King Christian IX of Denmark (1818-1906), who was on the throne from 1863 until his death, making him one of the longer-reigning monarchs in Danish (and European) history. The painting’s informal name is “The Father-In-Law of Europe” because of its depiction of the massive range of family connections enabled by Christian’s six children. You can see Christian and his wife, Louise of Hesse-Kassel, seated on the blue settee. There are a number of other notables in the painting; I’ll get to them in a few moments.
I won’t go into too much detail about how he ended up on the throne. Suffice it to say that Christian, a scion of a lesser male branch of the ruling Oldenburg family, found himself at the centre of a succession debate resulting from the inability of King Frederick VII to father children. Christian’s marriage to Louise proved to be fortuitous and an example of dynastic foresight; as a great-niece of Christian VII (b.1749, r.1766, d.1808) she actually had a better claim to the throne than her husband (save for the fact that Denmark adhered to a partial version of the Salic Law that prohibited - as Shakespeare put it in Henry V - “your highness claiming from the female”). In 1847, the great powers of Europe put their heads together and nominated Christian to succeed Fredrick when the latter should shuffle off the mortal coil; Fredrick agreed in exchange for promises of financial support.
When Fredrick died in November 1863 and Christian came to the throne, an immediate crisis exploded over possession and status of Fredrick’s hereditary domains of Schleswig and Holstein, two provinces on the Danish-Prussian border. Christian signed the November Constitution, making Schleswig part of Denmark, and resulting in a brief war between Denmark and a Prussian/Austrian alliance in 1864. While this Second War of Schleswig didn’t turn out well for Denmark (Schleswig and Holstein, along with Saxe-Laurenburg, became Prussian and Austrian possessions in 1865 under the Treaty of Vienna), it did include the famous Battle of Dybbøl Mølle, a defensive action outside of the southern Danish city of Sønderborg, which was notable for the use of complex defensive earthworks of a type that wouldn’t be seen again until 1914 (you can visit the site; the windmill - which is what mølle means - is still there).
“Kampene ved Dybbøl, 1864”, by Jørgen Valentin Sonne, 1871
It’s worth noting that the trench system constructed by the Danes at Dybbøl Mølle followed and was built on the line of the Danevirke, a system of fortifications more than a thousand years old, which had been begun by King Gudfred in 808 to defend against the Franks, recently united under Charlemagne. There’s a reason that battles keep happening at strategic places; it’s called “geography”.
Anyway, back to Christian IX. His accession to the throne put an end to the Oldenburg Dynasty and launched the Glucksburg dynasty, only the second dynastic change in the history of Denmark’s royal family (the Oldenburgs came to the Danish throne with the election of Christian I in 1448, replacing the succession of Viking and Medieval kings that had preceded them since Gorm the Old, who reigned from 936-958 AD). The number of kids that Christian and Louise managed to produce over the next several years (as well as Christian’s staunch defence of the prerogatives of the monarchy and his resistance to the liberalizing forces sweeping Europe in the latter half of the Victorian era) created complex familial nodes that continue to dominate Europe’s royal relations today. His children, their spouses, and their grandchildren included:
· King Fredrick VIII of Denmark (1843-1912) m. Princess Lovisa of Sweden
o King Christian X of Denmark
o King Haakon VII of Norway
o Princess Louise of Denmark
o Prince Harald of Denmark
o Princess Ingeborg of Denmark
o Princess Thyra of Denmark
o Prince Gustav of Denmark
o Princess Dagmar of Denmark
· Princess Alexandra of Denmark m. King Edward VII of the UK
o Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence
o King George V
o Louise, Princess Royal
o Princess Victoria
o Prince Maud of Wales
o Prince Alexander John of Wales
· King George I of Greece m. Olga Konstantinovna of Russia
o King Constantine I of Greece
o Prince George of Greece and Denmark
o Princess Alexandra of Greece and Denmark
o Prince Nicholas of Greece and Denmark
o Princess Maria of Greece and Denmark
o Princess Olga of Greece and Denmark
o Prince Andrew of Greece and Denmark
o Prince Christopher of Greece and Denmark
· Dagmar of Denmark m. Czar Alexander III of Russia
o Czar Nicholas II of Russia
o Grand Duke Alexander Alexandrovich
o Grand Duke George Alexandrovich
o Grand Duchess Xenia Alexandrovna
o Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovich
o Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna
· Thyra of Denmark m. Ernst August of Hanover, 3rd Duke of Cumberland
o Princess Marie Louise of Hanover and Cumberland
o Prince George William of Hanover and Cumberland
o Princess Alexandra of Hanover and Cumberland
o Princess Olga of Hanover and Cumberland
o Prince Christian of Hanover and Cumberland
o Prince Ernest Augustus of Hanover, Duke of Brunswick
· Prince Valdemar of Denmark m. Marie of Orléans
o Prince Aage of Denmark
o Prince Axel of Denmark
o Prince Erik of Denmark
o Prince Viggo of Denmark
o Princess Margaret of Denmark
Say what you like, that’s a perfectly astonishing brood. And there are some pretty big names among Christian’s list of grand-kids. If you take a swing around Europe’s royal families these days, quite a few of them still have a Viking somewhere in the woodpile. Let’s try it out, starting with an easy one:
· Margrethe II of Denmark: Fredrick IX - Christian X - Fredrick VIII - Christian IX of Denmark
· Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom: George VI - George V - Princess Alexandra of Denmark - Christian IX of Denmark
· Harald V of Norway: Olav V - Haakon VII - Frederick VIII of Denmark - Christian IX of Denmark
· Albert II of Belgium: Astrid of Sweden - Princess Ingeborg of Denmark - Fredrick VIII of Denmark - Christian IX of Denmark
· Constantine II of Greece (until the monarchy was abolished in 1973): Paul of Greece - Constantine I - George I - Christian IX of Denmark
Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands, Prince Henri of France, Grand Duke Henri of Luxembourg, Nicholas Romanov of Russia, and Hans-Adam II of Lichtenstein are not directly descended from Christian IX, putting them in something of a minority (especially as the French and Russian royal houses are considered ‘deposed’). And while King Juan Carlos of Spain is not descended from Christian, his son and heir-apparent, Felipe Prince of Asturias, is, by virtue of Juan’s marriage to Sophia of Greece and Denmark (eldest child of Paul of Greece, and sister to King Constantine II of Greece) another descendent of Christian IX. So once Juan Carlos disappears into the pages of history, the next King of Spain will be one Christian IX’s scions, further cementing that ancient gentleman’s hold on the thrones of Europe.
And what of our friend Carl XVI Gustav, whose indiscretions launched this whole line of discussion? Well, it turns out that, unlike so many of his peers, he is not in fact, a descendent of Christian IX.
Charles Edward, Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, Grandfather of King Carl Gustav, ca. 1933
But he came close. Carl is the son of Princess Sibylla of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, who was the daughter of Charles Edward, Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha - a chap infamous in the Swedish royal lineage for having been an Obergruppenfuhrer of the S.A. Charles Edward was something of a scandal for the British royal family too. He was the eldest (and only) son of Prince Leopold, Duke of Albany, who was the eighth child and fourth son of Victoria and Albert.
Prince Leopold, Duke of Albany (1853-1884)
Prince Leopold, a haemophiliac, was notoriously frail and, as such, his mother (protective at the best of times) did her best to keep him around the house. Seeing marriage as his only chance for escape, Leopold expressed an interest in a number of prominent ladies of the era - including, interestingly, Alice Liddel, the daughter of the vice-chancellor of Oxford for whom Reverend Dodgson (aka Lewis Carrol) wrote Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Leopold eventually married (at his mother’s suggestion, natch) Princess Helene Friederieke, the daughter of Georg Viktor, Prince of Waldeck-Pyrmont, in 1882. But before he did, he courted none other than Princess Karoline Mathilde of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Augustenburg, a great-niece of Victoria, and a daughter of one of Napoleon III’s paramours and Fredrick VIII, Duke of Schleswig Holstein. Fred was the rival Oldenburg claimant to the duchies that were at stake when Christian IX took the Danish throne for the Glucksburgs in 1863, and later lost to Prussia and Austria. Had his great-grandfather Leopold married Princess Karoline, Carl Gustav would’ve enjoyed an older (and Salic Law-compliant) claim to the Danish throne than its current occupant, Margrethe II.
History is full of what-ifs. For one of the best examples imaginable, take another look at that painting of Christian IX and his flock of relatives. Two of the children depicted are the future King George V of the UK and the future Czar Nicholas II of Russia (probably added as the painting was being completed, seeing as how they were born, respectively, in 1865 and 1868).
Here’s what Nick (on the left) and George (on the right) looked like forty years later, in 1913:
The resemblance is uncanny, and it goes beyond the mere physical. Reigning monarchs, first cousins, and virtual twins, glorious in their finery - blissfully unaware that the world they knew would cease to exist in less than a year, and that only three years after that, the gentleman on the left, with all of his family, would be butchered by Bolshevik fanatics in a filthy basement in Yekaterinburg.
One line dies, another line lives on. There’s something to be said for having big families - even if, from time to time, some of them get up to shenanigans.
P.S. If you like big-scene paintings, here’s another one by Tuxen - the wedding of Nicholas II in 1895: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:TsarNicholasIIWedding.jpg
P.P.S. Tuxen’s also famous for being a member of the “Skagen School” of artists that painted realistic maritime scenes of the northernmost tip of Denmark. I have a number of prints (my wife’s maternal grandfather was a merchant marine/fisherman). Here’s an example of that sort of work: http://rubensgallery.org/upload1/file-admin/images/new22/Laurits%20Tuxen-227734.jpg